(1640-1689) English playwright, novelist, and poet
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What Is Triumph in Love?
with a consideration of Aphra Behn
by Nancy Huntting
Realism is tremendously kind in distinguishing
clearly between two very different kinds of triumph people have in
love—one which is false and makes us weaker and ashamed; the other, a
and lasting triumph, arising from the desire to like the world
Growing up in Ohio, I had a
feeling of respectful wonder as my 4th
grade class studied the brightest star in the constellation Orion, with
the amazing name Betelgeuse, so many, inconceivable light years away.
But I also wanted the feeling I got at home: that I was stellar, just
was a Huntting, of superior New England stock, as we saw it.
it, I increasingly went after this spurious triumph of feeling I was
better than others. As a result, at 13, despite praise from parents and
teachers, when I began to think my best friend was more beautiful and
smarter than I, I wrote to her that I was a failure—something I felt
Years later in an Aesthetic
Realism class, Eli Siegel asked me questions that made the cause of
this feeling of failure clear to me: "Have you
wanted to be superior to every woman you met?" Yes, I had. That basis
for "self-esteem" was fake, and I couldn't entirely fool myself. I came
to see that I was punishing myself with a feeling of inferiority, and was ill-at-ease
outside my family and close friends.
I. The Mistake about Love
was also at this age that Tom Weston began to act a little nervous
around me — to smile, boast, tease me. I felt such a thrill that
nothing seemed to compare with it. He was lively and interested in art,
but I wanted him to like me more than anything else. My
care for everything else dimmed — except Tom's
calls, what he was doing, if he was going to ask me to go steady. I
thought the fact that his father, a contractor, built their split-level
house, and even that his sister was pretty, favorably reflected on Tom
and therefore on me.
see another person," Mr. Siegel writes in Self and World, "as having meaning,
having beauty, and having power because one can use that person as an
argument in behalf of one's self-love — that is really to despise a
person; to hate him; to de-individualize him" (p. 182). This is what I
did, with Tom and later with other men, and it made for hell: for
anger, jealousy, disappointment, shame.
I came to New York after college, I met a man who was studying to be an
architect, and with his help opened a small antique store. But I had a
stuck, heavy feeling as I sat in that store, and didn't want to move. I
despised my indolence, yet didn't see there was an intense ambition I did have: that this
enterprising young man should make me feel terrifically important and
take care of me. "Were you in a relation with him of empress and
lackey?" Mr. Siegel later asked. Yes! But then I only knew I felt weak
and ashamed. I would have gone after this hurtful triumph again and
again if I hadn't met Aesthetic Realism, and learned what love really
II. Eli Siegel Asks about Purpose
In a class, Mr. Siegel asked me questions I am everlastingly grateful for;
they explained what was running me: "Everyone," he said, "wants to
conquer someone, and Aesthetic Realism doesn't go along with that. Do
you want to conquer, or to understand?" I answered, "Both." And Mr.
Siegel asked, "Which is predominant? Has it torn you apart?" "I think
it has," I said. "Is there any greater comfort in the world," he
continued, "than owning a person whom you desire? Do you believe you
conquer the world by having a man need you?"
saw that the victory I felt when a man showed he needed me seemed to
put the whole demanding world in its place. But, I was learning, the
demands I had tried to get away from were coming from me, and I should be
proud of them. "Which would you rather do," Mr. Siegel asked, "scorn,
or find more meaning in things?" I love him for this question, crucial
to my whole life, and for enabling me to find so much more meaning in
things — my parents, other women, and men; meaning in the world, past
and present. I, once so self-centered and cold, am so grateful it
matters to me now that justice come to others! Through studying
Aesthetic Realism, which I am proud to be now in magnificent classes
taught by Class Chairman Ellen Reiss, I have been freed to like things and people and to
want to know a man — which is the real triumph in love!
Will It Be
Intrigue, or "Plaindealing"?
Realism has at last made clear why women and men have fooled themselves
so much. Mr. Siegel explains in a great lecture he gave in 1949, "Aesthetic Realism and Love":
love is the love that says, "in capturing somebody and making that
person an annex of myself and having him please me and praise me, I
will have conquered the world, pulled a fast one on the universe, and
in this way I can like myself." It is a false liking of oneself.
Love based on respect is
the feeling that affecting a particular person
and being affected by that person as deeply as possible and in all the
ways possible, would be a means of liking the world in general.
speak now about a woman whose life and work are valuable in showing the
fight between these two possibilities. I am writing about just a few
aspects of the full, important life of Aphra Behn, 1640-1689, who was
described by Mr. Siegel in a lecture as "a very noteworthy 17th century
English writer." She is said to be the first woman to make her living
writing: her complete works — 19 full-length plays, poems, stories, and
novels — fill seven volumes. Her "comedies of intrigue"
were popular Restoration plays. Along with the fact that at 26, she was
a spy in the service of King Charles II — the following is said about
Aphra Behn in Westminster Abbey, where she is buried: "She was Mistress
of all the pleasing Arts of conversation, but us'd 'em not to any but
those who love Plaindealing."
feel this is true — Aphra Behn had an impelling desire to be honest. It
arose from an interest in the world that had scope and particularity.
For instance, I was amazed to learn that she used sign language in her
plays. And in 1688 she published a revolutionary, courageous work titled Oroonoko, or the Royal
Slave, about which
Mr. Siegel said, it was "the first novel which tried to deal with the
African as a human being, and sometimes [she] is said to have written
the first anti-slavery novel."
her comedies, Aphra Behn could put together intrigue and "plaindealing"
in a way both deep and delightful, that made for art. Her characters
often mingle the noble and conniving, innocence and mischief. For
instance, her most popular comedy, The
Rover of 1677,
satirizes the coyness, silliness, and insincerity of both sexes in
love. Set in Naples in Carnival time, two sisters, Hellena and
Florinda, are talking:
Hellena. ...Tell me, too, who 'tis
you sigh for?
Florinda. When you are a Lover, I'll
think you fit for a Secret of that nature.
Hellena. 'Tis true, I was never a
Lover yet — but I begin to have a shreud Guess, what 'tis to be so, and
fancy it very pretty to sigh, and sing, and blush and wish, and dream
and wish, and long and wish to see the Man; and when I do, look pale
and tremble; just as you did when my Brother brought home the fine
English Colonel to see you — what do you call him? Don Belvile.
Florinda. Fie, Hellena.
Hellena. That blush betrays
little later Hellena has this thoughtful, rather honest observation: "I
love Mischief strangely, as most of our Sex do, who are come to love
is a beautiful fact," Ellen Reiss writes in TRO 1318:
we are critics of ourselves, and we want to think well of that self we
walk around with, use to look at things with, are alone with in the
privacy or our minds....There is no fiercer, more unquenchable question
in people than How
can I like myself — and why don't I?
is true of Aphra Behn. She could feel, on the one hand, she had true
reason to make this proud assertion to a man: "[H]ave thoughts as much
in favour of me as you can, for when you know me better, you will
believe I merit all." And she also wrote: "you bid me not dissemble;
and you need not have cautioned me, who so naturally hate those little
arts of my sex."
she could dislike herself very much, and not know why, and fool herself
about why. "She had suffering from men," Mr. Siegel pointed out, and we
can see she had a fight between whether to understand a man or conquer
him, which made for self-loathing. The title role of The Roveris supposed
to be patterned on a man she cared for, a lawyer, John Hoyle. I think
Aphra Behn wanted to understand him in writing it, and the pain they
gave each other. In the play when the cavalier Willmore, the Rover,
finally decides to leave off seducing women to marry Hellena, it is
because she is a straightforward critic of him, and he says to her:
"Thou hast one virtue I adore — good nature. I hate a coy demure
nature, akin to good will in the way she writes of it, is clearly a
quality Aphra Behn wanted to have with men and with John Hoyle. She
didn't have an easy time. In this letter to a man she calls Lycidas,
likely Hoyle, she's intensely critical of his desire to remain cool
while wantingher to
show warmth, and we feel she yearns to respect him:
Lycidas! ... You would not be in love, for all the world, yet
wish I were so, Uncharitable! ... I have heard, when two souls kindly
meet, 'tis a vast pleasure, as vast as the curse must be, when kindness
is not equal....
is moving. But Aphra Behn didn't have the opportunity — as women and
men have now in Aesthetic Realism consultations — to hear criticism of
that in herself against what is needed for two souls to "kindly meet."
I believe she also wanted John Hoyle to be warmer, not because it would
be good for his life, but so she could have him. This is likely also
from a letter to Hoyle:
cannot help ... wishing you no mirth, nor any content in your dancing
design; and this unwonted malice in me I do not like ....May your women
be all ugly, ill-natured, ill-dressed, ill-fashioned, and
unconversable; and for your greater disappointment may every moment of
your time there be taken up with thoughts of me (a sufficient
sees she has malice and doesn't like herself for it, but feels she has
to get revenge. They both punished each other. "Revenge," Mr. Siegel
is seen as true self-expression .... ill will seems more convenient,
more protective, wiser ... But the absence of good will is now making
apartments, suburban homes, two-story houses everywhere in America
places of strategy, sorrow, and illness.
a class in 1977, Mr. Siegel said of Aphra Behn:
was] the first woman [writer] with a certain relation of masculine and
feminine .... There can be a going towards men, and a way one feels
they are also not worthy of one. This is in her life, and solved in
Oroonoko, the young, handsome Black prince.
IV. Our Inward
Criterion: The Oneness of Opposites
in her novel, puts together power and grace, is fierce and kind, and I
think he stands for the triumph Aesthetic Realism shows every person
wants — the oneness of opposites: "All beauty," Mr. Siegel stated, "is
a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we
are going after in ourselves."
grandson of an African chief and educated by a European tutor, is
captured and taken in a slave ship to the colony of Surinam, on the
northern coast of South America. The colonists see his "greatness of
courage and mind" she writes, and give him the name Caesar. His face is
"of perfect ebony, or polished jet. His eyes ... very piercing"; he has
"no one grace wanting that bears the standard of true beauty." On the
ship, Oroonoko would have starved himself to death, rather than submit
to slavery, and others follow him in this — so the captain, in fear for
his cargo, convinces Oroonoko he will be freed. In the colony he is
again assured freedom — but is told he must wait till the Lord-Governor
comes from England. Oronooko marries and his wife is going to have a
child; they fear the child is wanted for a slave too, so he goes to
rouse the other slaves — Aphra Behn writes that he speaks to them:
the miseries and ignominies of slavery; counting up all their toils and
sufferings, under such loads, burdens, and drudgeries as were fitter
for beast than men; senseless brutes, than human souls. He told 'em, it
was not for days, months, or years, but for eternity; there was no end
to be of their misfortunes.... "And why," said he, "... should we be...
bought and sold ... to be the sport of ... such a degenerate race, who
have no one human virtue left, to distinguish them from the vilest
creatures? Will you, I say, suffer the lash from such hands?" They all
replied with one accord, "No, no, no..."
novel ends with Oroonoko being tortured and burned for leading the
rebellion — her description is unflinching, unbearable, yet brave in
showing how he never debased himself, never allowed his tormentors to
have contempt for him. Her wanting to get within the soul of this man
and these men and oppose so keenly the brutal, entrenched contempt of
white for Black — represents the true triumph of art, for which she
could deeply respect herself.
sure Aphra Behn wants her life to be used now to see how much women and
men want to have good will as their conscious purpose in love. "Good
will is aesthetics," Mr. Siegel wrote: "a true mingling of kindness and
exactness or severity.... [it] works against ... disproportionate love
The Purpose that Will Have Men and Women Proud
Peale, a young woman with striking blue eyes and strawberry blond hair,
told her Aesthetic Realism consultants there were two things she didn't
like in herself — her desire to mock people, and how she was with men.
She felt that what she humorously referred to as "The Peale Plan, Maxim
#1: 'Flattery will get you everywhere" with a man, had hurt her.
asked, "Do you want to be proud of the way you're for people and
against them?" "Oh, yes," she said. "So do you want to have your
critical mind working with a good purpose as you're in a close relation
with a man?" "Yes, I do. I feel I almost get panicky when I see a
handsome man," she said.
have felt clever keeping men guessing," we pointed out. "Can your mind
work clearly as to a man, or do you think that's boring? Why do you
think you get fragmented as you think about a man?"
I don't know.
Are you hoping to have contempt or respect? Contempt is what the pain
in love comes from.
not sure," Miss Peale said.
Have men felt you were strategic? Do you want to make a big man
That's true. I did that very much with my father. I hated the way he
was so sure of himself and logical, and I would consciously think of
things to do to get him angry.
an important assignment she did, "Five things about what it would mean
to use a man to like the world," Miss Peale wrote about a man she was
coming to know in a way that is both assertively proud and yielding at
once. For example:
Ben Fletcher finds meaning in instances of reality that I would
ordinarily dismiss. Recently as we walked down the street, he stopped
to photograph [what I saw as just] a pile of rubbish .... As he spoke
[I saw] these inanimate objects that had been discarded ... coming
alive....the world had more meaning for me.
told us she respected Mr. Fletcher for his energy and seriousness, but
was also scared as she was more affected by him. We asked: "Do you
think you're in a conflict of hope and fear about being known by a
I think I am, but I don't really understand why.
Do you think your first thought about a man is "Does he find me
Do you think there's another value you want to go after that you don't
I think there is, yes.
If you could see how much you want to have good will for a man, and use
him to know and like the world, you would feel like an integrated
person. You would like yourself.
proud to end my paper with what Miss Peale wrote in a letter some
months later, which stands for what women everywhere can feel through
studying Aesthetic Realism:
never thought there could be more pleasure or power than in conquering
a man....Now, I am learning how to be kind and strengthen a man and I
feel a pleasure, excitement, self-respect and dignity I never thought
possible.... Aesthetic Realism has made me feel more alive and enabled
me increasingly to have a mind I can respect.
Aesthetic Realism Consultant
Nancy Huntting. All rights reserved